OP/ED: Feds loosening the rules on foreign media ownership

Alex Atamanenko
By Alex Atamanenko
October 27th, 2010

New Democrats are asking tough questions about foreign ownership in light of the revelation that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has no research on the impact of foreign ownership in Canada’s broadcast and telecom industries. Speaking to the issue in late July, New Democrat Culture Critic Charlie Angus said the Harper government’s decision to open the doors to foreign buy-outs was taken without any data or research from the country’s regulator.
Angus stated that Stephen Harper has put a for sale sign on Canada’s telecom and broadcast sector for ideological reasons, adding that the CRTC doesn’t even have data to either challenge or support this ideological sell-off. He then asked, “Who is protecting the public interest?”
The proof that the regulator has no empirical data to back up government policy came by way of an Access to Information request for copies of any research, reports or studies in the CRTC’s possession that assess the impact of foreign ownership. In response to the query, the CRTC indicated that they didn’t have any documents or research.
Despite the lack of evidence on the effects of foreign ownership, the CRTC’s chairman, Konrad von Finckenstein (a Conservative appointee) recommended that foreign ownership levels in both telecommunications and broadcasting be raised when he testified at the House of Commons’ Industry Committee on April 13, 2010. It appears his decision was based on an ideological point of view and not necessarily on Canadian priorities. 
This dovetails perfectly with the Conservative Government’s belief that foreign ownership is not a problem. We see this time and time again as they open up more and more of Canada to outside interests. It’s not just telecommunications and broadcasting; we have also seen this in the resource and industry sectors. What makes foreign ownership in broadcasting so dangerous is that the new owners are unlikely to be critical of the policies that gave them access to the market. Canadians who rely on them for information may never be aware these broadcasters are not Canadian or representing Canadian interests.
Not only has the CRTC been unable to shed any light on the effects of foreign ownership, but it was also unable to tell us how many jobs have been lost because of media buyouts.   It cannot even tell us what is happening with Canadian content on the air.  

This is again a far cry from the kind of accountability promised by the Conservatives when they came to power and the transparency promised by von Finckenstein when he was appointed Chair of the CRTC. The inability of the CRTC to produce data to back up its decisions will leave Canadians even more vulnerable to ideologically-driven moves by the Conservative government. It seems that when it comes to accountability, transparency and standing up for Canada, the current government only talks a good game.